Monday, December 19, 2011


A friend called this morning to express his sorrow that a monk friend of his had died last night at 10:00.

What shall or can any of us do about death?

Sad? Yes.

Frightened? Perhaps.

Confused? Maybe.

Death, whatever the reaction, leaves us all sputtering and incoherent, waiting for the balm of time to put the matter on some remembered-but-no-longer-red-hot back burner. Life flows from birth to death in quite empirical ways -- ways apparent all around us -- and yet when it comes to death, there is some demand, as imperative as a burr stuck on a hairy cat, that things stop. Death puts a period on some sentence even as the sentence refuses to come to an end. The chorus rises up, "No! No! No!" And there are religions that take in a good deal of money based on that left-behind sorrow.

No one can be happy when they are sad. So if sad it is, then sad it is.

The Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki once wrote an article in which he suggested to his readers that they find a better word than "death." Death of the kind that stops life in its tracks is too imaginative, too unrealistic. And out of his world, Sasaki brought up the word used when a monk died -- "senge," ... to change the place from which the Dharma/truth is spoken. Sasaki was not off on some heavenly riff -- "poor Sam ... well he's in a better place now." Rather, as I understood him, he was suggesting that it would be useful and more realistic to get on board with life ... life that is so chock-a-block with birth and death and birth and death and birth and death ... the sentence without the period.

In the face of what is called death, belief is useless ... there is just too much evidence of how full of shit belief can be. But there is the option of paying close and caring attention to what is right in front of any of our noses. How are things now ... and now ... and now ... and now?

Is there an escape from the sorrow that can attend on a death? I doubt it ... so why bother trying to escape? But the same question might be asked of death itself -- if there is no escape, why bother trying to escape or make nice or spin some secondary tale?

Some are fans of meditating on death. Generally I'm not. I don't like pushing things in people's faces when their faces are not already there. If you scare someone, do they loosen up or tighten up? I'd guess they tighten up and who ever learned anything useful when draped in defensive clothing? Better, I think, is just to go along as always ... and pay attention to the way things actually work in this sentence without the period. Dandelions, love affair, business deals, bike riding, laughter, tears ... and on and on and on and on.

Things take care of themselves. That includes life. That includes birth. That includes death. You don't have to try to make them something that, for the moment, they are not.

Just pay attention and be gentle and be firm. Keep on keepin' on and eventually you will become a part of the flow that you were always a part of. Putting periods one this sentence is a fool's errand. We're all fools, but I see no reason to be foolish about it. Pay attention. Be gentle but firm.

Maybe it'll work. Maybe not.

It's just a suggestion.

1 comment:

  1. Death is coming. Gaining speed daily. My Social Security check has gone up by $30 so i'm now $5 over the cutoff for Medi-Cal. My prescriptions will now cost a quarter of my income which is already gone half way through the month. Not complaining, just anticipating.

    Ta Hui says don't think too much, and keep birth and death in mind. I guess i can worry about whether or not i'll have the discipline for what's coming. But sitting is all i can do and too tired to worry much.

    It's been a good run, and this body isn't anything to hang onto. But habit is a powerful force in the universe. And we seem able to endure quite a lot. Time will tell. And there are chores to do for now.